Wrestling

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Exod. 13:3-10; 1 Cor. 15:41-50; Matt. 28:16-20

The post-Easter readings often get the Bible literalists squirming.  Some time ago, Carl and I became engaged in a conversation with a life-long Christian who was visiting our church at a Sunday evening Kemp Concert, was from a different tradition, and I think was scoping out new churches to potentially join.  She had found the two pastors together in the narthex, shooting the breeze, and she pressed us about something her pastor had said that morning at her church regarding how many women were at the tomb.  “He said there was one person at the tomb.  That isn’t what I remembered learning.  So what do Presbyterians believe?  How many women were at the tomb?  Is my pastor right or wrong?”

Carl started us off, “It depends which gospel account you read.”  She wasn’t quite hearing.

I added to the conversation, “It’s like eye-witness accounts.  Everyone remembers it a bit differently, and then I know the story is true!”

We went round and round with the final exasperation of: “So is my pastor wrong!”  We gave up.  In the midst of this we both tried to maintain hospitality and keep her engaged in learning about the Bible and asking questions and wrestling with her faith.  But she wasn’t looking to wrestle!

If you have noticed, there are many contradictions in the Bible.  One of the things I love about the Presbyterian tradition is that we do not check our brains at the door.  One could argue that Presbyterians embrace the conundrums!

Each gospel account seems to have a different group of women at the tomb – one has just Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, while another gospel speaks of Salome too, while another gospel only has one woman at the tomb.  Where he appeared, to whom, and for what purpose seems to change.

It appears, the only thing they are in agreement about is that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that the essential message of the resurrection was entrusted to “woman” not “man.”

Matthew, then, shares another key ingredient in this post-resurrection world, as he recasts the function of the disciples.  Initially their focus and function was to “…have authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 10:1).  Now it is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Those words may sound familiar, especially that first part.  Many in Oklahoma grew up in a tradition where this was an essential ingredient of faith.

Often I find that many do not want to take that second part seriously.  They are fine taking the pill of the first part, but do not want to wrestle with their faith.  That second part is where the wrestling really begins!  They quote verse 28 as the “Great Commission” forgetting completely that Jesus’ sentence continues with “…and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

And what was that teaching?  To love the unlovable.  To care for the poor, the hungry, the helpless.  To welcome the widows and the little children.  To party with sinners.  To feed everyone, whether they deserve it or not.  To teach that those who think they have power and authority have very little.  In short, he taught the in-breaking of the kingdom – an upsidedown world in which the meek would inherit the kingdom of God.

In other words, as we put the puzzle of our faith together, we realize it has less to do with beating others over the head with Christ, and more to do with living as Christ lived, with radical hospitality and sacrificing self so that others may see God.

The Great Commission is as much about radical love as anything else.  And that, my friends, is the heart of both mission and evangelism – showing radical love and hospitality.

-Matt

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Spreading Like Fire

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Exod. 12:40-51; 1 Cor. 15:(29)30-41; Matt. 28:1-16

Today we see God’s love spreading like wild fire.  Matthew tells of the resurrection and like all good eye witness accounts, each sees something different.  Matthew focuses on the disbursement of information.  The women went to tell the disciples.  “Some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests.”  Jesus shows up in Galilee, and elsewhere.  In Matthew, things are moving, and word is spreading fast.  News traveled fast.  Jesus moves fast.

The Exodus accounts a similar type of wild fire.  The Passover has just been instituted, and there are some rules come our way which transform the meal.  It turns out no foreigner shall eat of the meal, however slaves and aliens who reside with you are welcome.  The poor, the outcast, and the afflicted have a high place in God’s kingdom.  So not only is the entire company of Israel to eat, but they are to open this meal and invite the lowly.

This is precisely how I encountered my first Seder meal.  I was a student, poor and lowly, and was taken in.  I was a student in a foreign land, over in Israel, and some good Jews took me in.

This concept of “including the foreigner” gets fully rooted in our faith in the New Testament.  The resurrection is meant for everyone.  The “good news” is that YOU too are included in the story.  The “aliens who reside there” are brought into God’s fold.  The poor find hope and acceptance too.  Everyone!

Just as God loved us, we are to love others.  It is woven into the text: Old and New alike. And the point is multiplication.

Throughout scripture we are encouraged to love, and to spread that love.  It is the Bible’s way.  Frankly, it is what upsets so many.  It doesn’t seem fair, all this undeserved love.  Many rail against it, insisting subversively in their religion that you have to earn God’s love.  But loving and spreading love about sums it up.  It the only way we are to live.  It is the radical nature of the gospel, and the center of our story.

-Matt

Living in Us

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Exod. 12:28-39; 1 Cor. 15:12-28; Mark 16:9-20

Happy Easter!  What a joy it is to spend 50 days remembering the miracle of Christ’s triumph over death.  Our readings focus on that, as you might expect.  Exodus remembers the final act that led to the release from bondage in Egypt, which we just remembered with the help of Rabbi Abby Jacobson from Emanuel Synagogue at our Seder Meal on Palm Sunday (Did you see the write up in the Oklahoman?  http://m.newsok.com/sacred-and-symbolic-passover-seders-at-christian-churches-are-a-growing-trend-in-oklahoma/article/5487420 )

Then in 1 Corinthians and Mark we experience the depth of God’s love for us, a new birth if you will in the story of the resurrection.  This story is repeated in all four Gospels.  It is reiterated in Paul.  As it turns out it is one of the central messages of Christianity, along with Christ crucified.  Central to this message is an internalization of Christ’s resurrection – that we too have been raised.  We do this as we live out God’s love.

I am going to do something I rarely do, focus on another scripture.  But it is because everytime I start talking about the resurrection the words at the end of John come to mind – especially “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  This is how we live into the crucifixion AND the resurrection – shining the resurrected story of God to all people.

Are you like me and Helen Kemp?  Often when I hear scripture, I hear music.  It was the same for her.  During the readings, I hear Handel’s Messiah.  When you say to me “If you love me…” I hear Thomas Tallis’ piece, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

I remember conducting this in undergrad.  I had completed my required junior recital in organ, and also done a sophomore recital (which was not required) and so I was allowed a little leeway when it came to my senior recital.  Instead, I petitioned to do a conducting recital, which was approved.  I had the delight of putting together a choir of my own, conducting Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten, as well as some other pieces like Tallis’ If Ye Love Me.  As you might expect with undergraduate recitals, there are requirements of memorization.  I didn’t want to raise questions with the faculty, so I had my choir memorize the whole second half – including the Tallis piece.

Now that I look back on it, it seems all too appropriate.  “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”  “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”  John speaks of an internalization that, in many ways, is akin to memorization.  Those who love me, will not only keep my word, but will have me dwell in their soul.  They won’t be able to shake me, Jesus is declaring.

And how true that became as I rehearsed my choir.  I found the words sinking so deeply in my soul that I can still sing this from memory and rattle off the entire passage.  But memorization is only the beginning.  Jesus speaks of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – a resting upon one’s heart.  It is not just “keeping words” or an adopting of policy, but God living in us and consuming our hearts desire.

There is also an intimate and chosen aspect to this.  “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’”  Jesus’ response was that he and the Father will come to them and “make our home with them.”  If this isn’t an indwelling I don’t know what is!

As the Easter story unfolds in these coming days (as they always do with our post-Easter lectionary stories) we discover that Easter is much more than simply a resurrection of one person – it is a whole new chapter of existence, of being with God, of intimacy and closeness, of grafting into a new body.  Easter is about new life – not only with ourselves, but a new life with God.

-Matt

Easter

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Happy Easter, my friends!

You knew I had to lighten it up for Easter Sunday after all the dark readings lately, right?!

Holy Saturday

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AM Psalm 95 , 88; PM Psalm 27
Lam. 3:37-58; Heb. 4:1-16[AM]; Rom. 8:1-11[PM]

Life can be so filled with struggle.  Everywhere I see people struggling.  And it is not just the all-too-familiar stories of relationship struggles and heartbreak amongst my friends.  It is elsewhere too, into the stress and strain of unemployment and others with chaos in the workplace.  Then there are the traumatic stories of injury and illness that have touched so close to many of our hearts.

How, then, are we to believe the words of hope that come to us today.  In Romans, Paul reminds us to live our life in the spirit, not in the flesh and with the trappings of this world.

As believers, it is as if we have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth.  The struggle, as you are well aware, is the one foot on earth.  Our broken bodies and broken spirits are only the beginning of the trials of this life.

Our hope, we are told, is that one foot in heaven.  There is a better life that awaits us.  And in the meantime, we can share the hope of the gospel with those around us.  We can support one another in these difficult times, trying our best to create a little bit of heaven here on earth, with touches of heaven – togetherness, listening, care, compassion.  The ingredients of love seem harder and harder to come by in daily lives when jobs are on the line or when people are suddenly gone from our midst due to death or suicide.

In these times we must focus on the heart of the gospel message: that God is in this together with us.  We are not alone.

Today is Holy Saturday, a day when we sit in the reality of death, celebrating our Lord’s death.  Celebrating?  Yes, because we know that because of his death and they way he loved wastefully, even to the point of giving his life and his love away, that we are transformed.  Because of his death we already have one foot in heaven, buried with him in our own baptism and made alive again with one foot still on this earth, being the resurrected Body of Christ. We are not alone.  God is here.

I hope you walk through this day with the image of one foot on earth and one foot in heaven, because it is true.  God loves us all with an everlasting love, and eternal life is already upon us, here and now.  In that is the freedom to live as one foot in heaven already, loving wastefully with everyone in our midst.

-Matt

 

Good Friday

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Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem, Israel – Central Tomb

AM Psalm 95 , 22; PM Psalm 40:1-14 (15-19), 54
Lam. 3:1-9, 19-33; 1 Pet. 1:10-20; John 13:36-38 [AM]; John 19:38-42 [PM]

It seems like just yesterday I walked the actual Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.  It’s been years – but vividly etched in my memory.   I ended my pilgrimage at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and placed my hand on the Hill of Golgotha.  It was a powerful day.  Usually crammed with pilgrims, it was an unusually light day in the Sepulcher, and I was able to go the place where tradition holds that Jesus was crucified.  An altar has been built over the Hill of Golgotha, and under the altar is a hole where one can reach down and touch the actual bedrock.  It was a powerful moment for me.  I felt connected to the Sacrificial Lamb in a whole new way, and I felt like I was at the base of the cross begging for forgiveness.

Today Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus.  It is a holy day beyond all holy days.  The crucifixion itself does not take place within the context of our daily lectionary readings, but if you go to a Tenebrae service tonight, or any of the Good Friday liturgies you will hear Jesus speak from the cross.  You will dwell at the base of the cross.

It is a dark day.  One enshrouded in deep emotion and haunting mystery, for the people surrounding his death did not know the fullness of his resurrection, or didn’t believe it.

We encounter the burial of Jesus.  Joseph of Arimathea is there, a disciple of Jesus, who fears the wrath of the Jews and goes to Pilate in secret to inquire of the burial of the body.  Nicodemus is there too, the man of power in the House of Israel, who brings a mixture of myrrh and aloes, 100 Roman pounds, or about 75 English/American pounds.  It is unclear what this represents, but is clearly to reduce the odor of decay, and it is extravagantly large in scale.  Perhaps it represents the great honor they had for Christ.  Or perhaps their inadequate faith in his resurrection.

My question is always: where were the male disciples?  Why are these odd previously-unknown twelve dudes helping?  Where are these disciples who knew and loved him?  It wasn’t just Peter who denied him.  They all seem to have lost faith.

This is the true darkness of this day.  Not only is our savior dead, but we all seemed to play a role in it: the politicians, the Jews, the crowd, even his family and disciples, who stood by and did very little.  In a sense, we all played a part in the destruction and rejection of the one who came to bring life.

But as we know, this is not the end of the story.  This day is one like Ash Wednesday – a time to look inward and seek out the nooks and crannies of our hearts that need resurrection and healing.  As Jesus hung from the cross he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Let us look upon the cross today with mercy and humility, longing and courage, for the one who will rise from the tomb and free us from ourselves.

Our Order of Tenebrae is at 7pm in the Chapel.

-Matt

Maundy Thursday

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AM Psalm 102; PM Psalm 142, 143
Lam. 2:10-18; 1 Cor. 10:14-17, 11:27-32; Mark 14:12-25

From the Latin mandatum novum, which means “a new commandment” comes the term “Maundy”.  The great commandment, Jesus already taught us, is to love God with all our heart and mind and will, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Maundy Thursday is the Church’s celebration of Jesus’ last night, when he gave a new commandment: not only are we to love each other as we love ourselves, but that we are to love each other as Jesus has loved us.  Interestingly, it is not a “new” commandment, but a crafty summary of the 10 Commandments.

This was also the night he is betrayed by one who loved him, and also the night the Last Supper is instituted.  The bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given, reminiscent of the feeding of the multitudes.  Jesus came to this earth to feed to masses, and he continues that trajectory, declaring that his body will continue to feed them in his absence, and that, “…I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  The table becomes a place of future reassurances.

In that sense, the table becomes the new commandment, so maybe that is where Maundy comes from.  We learn that our ministry is to continue in his name, that he will continue to be at table with us, and that part of our ministry is going to involve feeding others.

We learn that service and humility are wrapped up in remembrance, and that it is not merely a Passover remembrance anymore, but a remembrance that takes us back to Jesus’ last night on earth.  The meal is one of death as well as reassurance of new life.

May your Maundy Thursday be filled with Eucharistic hope as we turn our hearts and minds to these most sacred events of the Christian year.  You are welcome to come to a couple table opportunities tonight, at the Manna in the Wilderness Guided Labyrinth Walk at 5pm or Maundy Thursday Communion served between 5:30pm-7:30pm (approx. 15 minutes of liturgy).

-Matt